Sketching Everyday Life

Sketching Everyday Life

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No matter how much I might like to be out in Galway City with my sketching stuff, it’s not always possible. I’m enduring a period of intense work at the moment (more like: intense procrastination interspersed by short periods of guilt-driven work), and it takes the guts of a day to get to Galway, sketch and get home in time to feed three very hungry kids who think there’s never anything in the fridge. The fact that temperatures have gone from warm enough to fall asleep in the sun to cold enough to complain continuously in the space of a week means that outdoor sketching isn’t tempting me much. So in the absence of spare time and clement weather, I’m sketching what’s in front of me – and since my workplace is also my home, that’s a lot of sketches of home. There are a lot of advantages to sketching everyday life. It’s very easy to start, of course, and can happen with no planning, but it’s a good way to work hard to observe your subject well without the various distractions that street life presents.

One morning last week I came down to this sight through my window:

Sheep in the Morning, watercolour by Roisin Cure

There are often sheep in the fields on either side of our house. This was inconvenient when we had dogs, as no matter how relaxed the dogs looked, there was always the chance that they might take a notion to chase and harm the sheep. We don’t have dogs at the moment so we just enjoy the sheep and their adorable lambs. There’s nothing like the sight of a gang of lambs playing together in the evening spring sunshine, bursting with the joy of being alive. On occasion I’ve seen their plump, woolly mothers joining in, unable to resist the fun, reliving their younger days for a moment. It’s a funny sight to see such normally slow ladies kicking up their heels with joy like the youngsters. The field to the left of the house is very big, but the sheep tend to cluster next to the house, taking advantage of the shelter from the wind our house provides: this means we can admire them all day long. The morning I did this sketch, a rather plump sheep was calmly ruminating on her breakfast while her not-so-young offspring squashed itself between her and the stone wall. She didn’t move for my sketch, nor did her expression change (a very inscrutable sheep) and I was happy to catch the morning rays. The morning sun made drawing the shadows quite easy: areas of light and shade were sharply defined, so their coats were brilliant white in the sun and indigo blue in shadow.

That gave me the idea to draw the next morning –

Breakfast Jug, watercolour by Roisin Cure

It can work quite well to sketch at breakfast, especially since I’m only the cook, preferring to wait until calm is restored to have my own breakfast. Who looks after the family if the cook is sketching? No one – and good enough for them, as we say in Galway. They went without their nice cup of tea that morning, but they are more than able to make it themselves. It was the shadows on the jug which caught my eye – the contrast between white ceramic and deep blue shadow suggested the drawing would be easier than usual (I’ve drawn the jug many times) and so it proved – when the sun hadn’t nipped behind a cloud. I hadn’t planned to draw the tablecloth and the crockery, but when I noticed that everything else seemed to be either light green or brown, I decided to add it all in.

Next day, I very deliberately sketched the table just as it was. We all complain about the ugliness of plastic containers – well, I certainly do – but the morning light shining through the translucent plastic of this milk carton was beautiful. I wondered if I could make it look as nice in my sketch as it did in the flesh. Still enjoying painting light green things, I was lucky that this one had a green label to blend nicely with all the other stuff on the table. I got the effect of sunlight through the translucent plastic by concentrating on the tonal values of everything in the frame: what was lighter and what was darker than its neighbour.

Milk carton, watercolour by Roisin Cure

It’s a bit rough, but that’s at the very core of urban sketching – to be free and enjoy yourself.

The next morning I ignored that principle and made a sketch that I didn’t enjoy, just because after three morning sketches I felt I ought to do another. I don’t know if I’ve ever had a worse reason for sketching – but again, it’s only a sketch – so what? It went very badly to begin with – the kettle was very poorly observed (I wasn’t doing my little measurement-by-eye tricks I always do) so I stuck a bit of paper on top and drew over it. You can see the edges of the paper around the kettle.

Le Creuset on the Hob, watercolour by Roisin Cure

Now, this is a case of a sketch not being quite the whole truth: I cropped off a bit at the bottom of the sketch, which shows my pots and pans…in a couple of somewhat tatty cardboard boxes. I don’t have any kitchen cupboards, and so the cardboard boxes have to do, for now (it’s amazing how many years you can get out of a cardboard box). The reason I don’t have any kitchen cupboards is because they haven’t been made yet, by the resident carpenter, ie. my husband. He feels this keenly and so asked me to crop off the part with the cardboard boxes. Then a very nice lady saw the sketch on Facebook and said how lovely my kitchen looked! I had to tell her the truth. Has to be said though, I thought the cardboard boxes looked quite nice, but what can you do?

Later that day, a tiny set of paints arrived in the post. It is almost microscopic. Eight half-pans in two rows with a third row of four between them that I added myself. (Of course, as soon as I had this tiny new kit, I had to sew something that would be just big enough to hold an entire mini sketching kit, as I’m trying to pare back my kit so that in theory I can whip everything out and paint standing up, paints in my left hand, sketchbook in my right, pens and pencils hanging off my person somewhere. There’ll be a demonstration of what I made under the Craft section of the website soon.)

I put my new paintbox to the test (yes, over a breakfast sketch the next day):

Brown Mug, watercolour by Roisin Cure

I enjoyed painting the shiny ceramic mug: I did it by saving the whites first and foremost, then carefully adding extra layers as the brown areas became more intense. It looks tricky but it’s just a question of careful observation – as always.

I took the tiny sketch kit up to bed to see if I could paint lying propped up in bed. I’ve usually found my normal kit a bit unwieldy in the past (or maybe I’m telling myself that, to justify all the effort with the sewing machine). There wasn’t much in my room that was sketch-worthy, and in the end the only thing that inspired me was a newly-tidied stack of books on the floor:

Stack of Books, watercolour by Roisin Cure

Urban sketches are often about stories as much as sketches, and this stack of books tells the story of me in a nutshell. The book on top says I read to a child in my room. The travelogues say that I often wish I lived elsewhere. The historical thriller says I like to immerse myself in a romantic and exciting past. The Ross O’Carroll Kelly book says I am very shallow and adore Irish humour. The book on business for artists says I’m always trying to turn paint into gold. The books I didn’t choose say my family choose thoughtful gifts. The fact that this is how my books look after they’ve been tidied up suggests I’m not great at being tidy.

The subjects of these sketches are trivial, inconsequential, and I’ve enjoyed the switched-off trance-like state that always seems to descend when I really get into a sketch, regardless of whether or not someone needs a cup of tea. It’s been more than that, though: life as an artist isn’t always a smooth ride, and I often have to do a drawing that I don’t particularly want to do, or else I very much want to do a drawing, but no one wants to pay me to do it. Or I’ve been rejected by some erudite art institution or other (more on that in another post, when I get over it). Sketching everyday life at home, as and when the mood takes me, is reclaiming art for its own sake, for no reason other than sheer pleasure.

So what are you waiting for?

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  1. Peggy Haug

    May 6, 2015 at 2:42 pm

    Your sketches are great! I’m impressed with how you can take some pretty plain subjects and make them so enjoyable to view!!

  2. Diane

    May 6, 2015 at 12:34 pm

    truly enjoyed a peek into your everyday life….

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