If you like this please +1 it!
Summer in Galway City – nothing like it. Your senses are assailed by colour, through the buildings, the people, the landscape. Underlying this is the rickety skeleton of a medieval outpost: add the usual gentle neglect that is the Irish way, and you’re in a place where you can feel pretty relaxed. I may sound like an advertisement for the Tourist Board but I know as a sketcher that the visitors are having a lovely time, because I hear what they are saying as they pass. For me, sketching life and colour in Galway City is a treat that only comes around for the summer months, so I like to make the most of them.
The Bridge Mills is one of Galway’s landmarks. It sits on the west bank of the River Corrib. I went to draw it one morning, and took my 14-year-old son with me. The summer holidays have started, and it’s a constant, infuriating and frustrating battle to convince our kids to step away from the screens, leave those funny YouTubes and absorbing Sims behind and get out and DO something. But it was not too hard to persuade my boy Paddy to come and sketch with me, as we get on like a house on fire and share a sense of humour. I packed his own beautiful sketching kit with the hope that he’d be inspired. We sat on the grassy river bank and I sketched while Paddy chatted about this and that. After a while I sent him off to buy some nice hot chips from McDonagh’s, a traditional fish and chip shop that’s been a Galway fixture since 1902. We chomped them in the shade of whatever tree species is the one you can see at the top of the frame, hot, salty, vinegary, just the way we like them.
(He did take out his beautiful sketching kit: he drew a carrot, then a rabbit, then an angry farmer with a gun, and said he’d forgotten how much fun sketching is. Needless to say I agreed and made no comment about subject choice.)
What with all the chat, I didn’t get the drawing finished, and went back there on my own a few days later. A lovely lady named Kate stopped to look. She was the type of person that makes urban sketching such a pleasure. She complimented me profusely, and was so warm that I showed her my sketches of my younger daughter (I don’t normally share intimate details of my life with passers-by!). She was clearly a real “mum” and said how like me my daughter is. Then she put her arm around my shoulders, just for sheer niceness. I love people like that. I told her she’d be in my write-up, so there she is.
A swan family drifted into view at just the right moment and stayed there obligingly until I’d finished drawing them. A man passed with his young son.
“Look at the swans!” said the little boy.
“There they are,” said his father. “There used to be twelve young ones, now there are only two.”
I doubt they had twelve, but what do I know? Maybe swans help out with other kids too.
Perhaps I was distracted by the funny stories from YouTube, but I made a real rookie mistake – I didn’t match the shape of the scene before me to the format of my page. In other words, if the scene you’re drawing is long and thin, then draw it in a portrait format! So obvious, but I didn’t do it. That left me with a big problem: how to fit the river in, which was a very important part of the sketch – what’s The Bridge Mills without the reason it was built? The bottom of the page coincided with the pink flowers, so no room for the river.The solution was tricky, but worked. I tore another sheet out of my sketchbook, oriented it to portrait and laid it behind the sheet I had been working on. Then I lined it all up, clipped the pages together with bulldog clips and just continued the drawing on the new page. Then I stitched them together on the computer. Next time I’ll take a few minutes to appraise the scene before me.
Neachtain’s is a pub in the heart of Galway’s Latin Quarter. It’s on the corner of Shop Street and Cross Street and is right at the hub of all the action and life of the city. There are wicker chairs outside and they’re always full of punters. Somehow there’s never one free – I must try harder. Back in the day I drank too much and smoked too much in Neachtain’s, many times. And although all I can remember of those Bacchanalian nights is a haze of foul smoke, a dizzy head and some indistinct faces, I know I enjoyed them for the most part (but we all usually drank to excess, which is no fun). I don’t think I’ve had anything stronger than a bowl of soup in Neachtain’s for ten years or so. But it’s a fabulous pub, a warren of snugs and artistic posters, and there’s usually great trad music on somewhere. One of these days I’ll sketch the musicians, and maybe the landlord will buy me a drink…but there’s sure to be opportunities for sketching life either way!
Every few yards in Galway there’s a busker. They don’t interfere too much with each other in terms of clashing sounds. Yesterday I passed musicians, artists and jewellery peddlers. But the one I’ve drawn here is one of my favourites. He is a little unusual: he enters a world of his own when he sings, and in fact may as well be alone, as he skips, twirls and falls to his knees during his songs. His taste runs to big Disney ballads and Enrique Iglesias schmaltz. He is frequently the butt of teasing by passers-by, some of which is cruel, but he doesn’t seem bothered. I’ve heard Galway guys teasing him, but it tends to be gentler in nature than that of the visitors (who, it must be said, are often here on stag weekends, and are often in no position to be mocking someone for funny behaviour…). Buskers offer a great chance for sketching life and movement and it’s something I’d like to do more of.
I had an unexpectedly free afternoon in town yesterday. I love those kinds of free gifts. I had my two younger children with me, and our puppy. I sent them in to get milkshakes in Eyre Square shopping centre, telling them I’d look after the puppy. Then I figured I’d take the opportunity to make a very quick sketch. I was going to sit on the bench and sketch what I saw, but this nice young man got there before me. This is what I love about urban sketching: you just draw whatever you are presented with. Every urban sketcher has their own particular taste in choice of subject: some love beauty in watercolour, others like the big statement. I love the whimsical, the quirky. So this guy with his ice cream was just up my street. Not only that, but he was happy to sit for me.
“I am waiting for my friends,” said the young man, who turned out to be a Frenchman called Jacques. “I will not move.”
Jacques couldn’t have been a better model. He sat still long after I’d started on the statues, but I didn’t tell him I didn’t need him any more because I had slipped into the “zone” and was barely aware of anything. My two kids were very patient. By and by we were joined by a very special family I know, a mum and her three beautiful daughters, whom it is my pleasure to teach in my art class. We shot the breeze as I sketched; it couldn’t have been a nicer way to spend what turned from a five-minute sketch into a pleasant interlude of over half an hour.
The two statues are Oscar Wilde and Eduard Vilde, the latter an Estonian writer. The statues were a gift to the people of Galway from Estonia and there is a replica in Tallinn, unless I’m mistaken. The scene imagines a conversation between the two writers, who were contemporaries but never met. They look like they’re coveting Jacques’ ice cream…
Sketching Galway in the summer is a synonym for sketching life and colour and I find it hard to resist. If you’ve been to Galway, or if you’re lucky enough to live here, I’d love to hear your impressions of the city!