Sketching Seafest 2017: Celebrating Our Seas in Ink and Watercolour

Sketching Seafest 2017: Celebrating Our Seas in Ink and Watercolour

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Life as an urban sketcher is one long stream of self-indulgence. Sketching is our passion and we squeeze it in wherever and whenever we can, and getting paid for it is the icing on an already delicious cake. I was commissioned to sketch at Seafest a couple of weeks ago and it was just one of those dreamy days when the sun shines, the sea sparkles and the sketches go pretty well.

Seafest is a sort of Galway maritime festival which aims to tell everyone how great it is to live by the sea in Galway. They don’t need to convince me – I think it’s incredible. It may be a life of unpredictable and often inclement weather, but it’s also a life of clean, fresh air, wonderfully fresh fish and seafood and lots of sea-based activities. The Marine Institute is situated in a beautiful spot overlooking Galway Bay, and they were my employers for the day.

Big Top at Seafest, Watercolour by Róisín Curé

This was my first sketch, done the evening before. It really doesn’t say much about the festival – who wants to see the roof of a big top? – and, what’s far more unforgiveable, the flag was blowing inside out from where I was sitting, making the logo the wrong way around. But I was so paranoid that it would rain the next day that I did what I could.

Celtic Explorer, Watercolour by Róisín Curé

The next day dawned bright but not especially sunny and I set off. I had promised a minimum of four sketches so I knew I’d have to have a pretty seamless experience, which is a tall order when you can’t be sure what the weather is going to do. Things didn’t start off well. I started drawing members of the Defence Forces, and was moved out of the way within a few minutes by some burly men in fatigues who wanted to put something where I was sitting. This made me grumpy, to add to the fact that I was already feeling tense. What next? And how was I going to get into restricted areas? My eyes fell on a very large and muscular soldier. I asked him if he knew who I should ask about getting free movement around the docks.
“Just come with me,” he said in a beautiful Limerick accent. “We can go anywhere.”
He got a security guy manning a gate to let me through. Things were looking up considerably. Off I went, feeling very special…a full five minutes before the general public was allowed there too. Then I saw the Celtic Explorer, a research vessel owned and run by the Marine Institute. It was on my target list so I sat down to sketch it. That rust! Those cranes! The giant hooks! I had long wanted to sketch it and had never really had the opportunity, so I was in my element. Soon a man in an orange boiler suit hung out on the back (the stern?) and spotted me drawing him. He became shy but I had him in the bag. Him and his mate. Then a kind man shouted “Duck!” to me. I ducked just in time to avoid being brained by a huge rope thrown onto the deck by a rough and unreasonably cross man.

Then the sun came out to stay, and after my sketch of the ship I trotted off to find a flag to paint. I thought the client would like that in the collection. They looked very pretty too, orange, yellow and sky blue, planted in long rows along the quay and the marina, flapping in the wind, their colours intense in the strong sunshine.

Seafest Flag, Watercolour by Róisín Curé

As if that wasn’t enough, there were lines of pennants in the background…bliss.

I went to sketch the Celtic Explorer from another angle. I had a clear view over the bay and was getting into my stride when I emitted a shriek, as a sudden gust whipped my baseball cap off my head and over the edge of the quay. With the sun blazing down, I needed that cap to finish my sketches. A nice tanned young man in a wetsuit hanging out on a pontoon at the water’s edge handed it back to me. Then an announcement drifted over the air. “Ladies and gentlemen,” said a man’s voice. “For the first time in Ireland, the wonderful new sport taking the world by storm that is flyboarding! Prepare to be amazed! Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together and give a big Galway welcome to Kristen Smoyer and Beau Weston! They will swoop and dive before your eyes…”
A girl and a guy in wetsuits drifted into the bay, their feet clipped into boards which were attached by long rubber tubes to jet skis. Then they soared into the air, far above the Celtic Explorer, swooping and diving in huge clouds of spray and mist. The boy was the nice tanned young man who had handed me my cap. Swoon!
“The bigger the cheer, the bigger the stunts!” said the man over the tannoy. We cheered louder and the swooping and loop-the-looping went on. Whew! I tried to think curmudgeonly ant-flyboarding thoughts about the environment but I couldn’t come up with any.

Beau and Kirsten Flyboarders, Sketch by Róisín Curé

Needless to say, this sketch didn’t make the final cut for the Marine Institute, but it gives the uninitiated an idea of what flyboarding is about. It really was cool, and reminded me of that Dr Octopus fella in the Spiderman movies. Something in the way they lean forward as they whoosh along. The flyboarders held a remote control in their hands which increased or decreased the jet of water that emitted from the board they stood on (by the way, I spelt Beau wrong in the sketch). I just love the idea that someone stared at a jet ski once and wondered, “Now, how can I rig this so that I can soar and swoop high above the water?”

Here’s the sketch I made of the Celtic Explorer, with another flag, before Beau and Kristen started their high-flying antics. There was some jolly sea-kayaking going on with a bunch of children in the foreground, and they made me want to join in.

Flag in front of the Celtic Explorer, Watercolour by Róisín Curé

I was feeling rather wiped out by this stage – so much excitement! – but I wasn’t finished yet. Walking back along the quay, I spotted through the quays a humongous man dressed up as a pirate. We have a very skilled puppeteering group here called Macnas, which is where all the talented hippies get work in Galway.

Macnas at Seafest, Watercolour by Róisín Curé

I followed him and sketched him as he tried to slip away through the crowd. You can judge the atmosphere at Seafest by the fact that a man dressed like that could actually slip away unnoticed, as could his equally-outsized lady friend, and the two outsize deep-sea divers. I was very brave hunting the big green man down through the crowds, but if he’d actually tried to engage me in conversation – or worse, hug me, as he was doing to the nice blonde lady in the sketch – it would have been a different matter.

(Apologies for yet another yellow flag in the bottom corner, I dropped that into an otherwise empty corner.)

It was getting hotter, but there was one more sketch I wanted to do. The Defence Forces were very attractive to me (as a sketcher) with their camouflaged uniforms and fancy artillery. I decided to try to finish the sketch I’d had to abort earlier in the day.
As I walked through the area where they had their displays, the large and very muscular soldier who had helped me earlier stopped me.
“Did you get everything you wanted?” he asked. I thanked him and assured him that I had. I noticed that every time I asked a soldier something there would be a time attached, as in “it will be at one o’clock” “we will be here until three o’clock” – none of your “around one” “about three” sloppy nonsense for these regimented, orderly men.

I drew the big gun and the nice young men demonstrating it to the little visitors. I noticed something interesting. No judgment, just observation. Well, maybe a bit of judgment, I’m human. The kids who were intrigued by the big gun were of a certain social demographic. The little boy in the sketch had red hair and a mullet haircut. Now, I have red hair, but neither I nor anyone whose haircut I have requested has ever had a mullet. And a mullet in 2017?! That’s all I’ll say on the matter.

The Deefnce Forces at Seafest 2017, Watercolour by Róisín Curé

Then I sketched the bomb disposal guys. They are the lads on the top right. “Sketch us!” they said. This is what people always say to me, and I always say, “Right, I will so.” And then the subject gets stage fright and becomes shy. Happens every time. So I drew the soldier on the right, in profile. “I knew my ears were big,” he said, “but my nose too?” That’s what happens if you turn away…

I asked him if there is much call for bomb disposal in Ireland. “Yes,” he said. “Two to three times a week. It might be a hospital or a laboratory with chemicals that need to be disposed of. Or a suspicious package – anything with wires sticking out – or a letter, or an old haul left over from the Civil War.”
“Wow,” I said. “And that’s a bomb disposal suit?” I pointed at the bulky contraption hanging from the edge of the stall. “Yes,” said the soldier. “You don’t want to find yourself in that.”
Then the soldier’s children and wife came to say hello. They chatted for a while, the children clearly excited to see their daddy. They were intrigued by my sketch. “Daddy’s nearly coloured in,” I heard one of them say to her sister. After a bit they went off and left their father to his job. “Bye, Daddy,” they called, and I reflected on the bravery of men like that soldier who step in harm’s way to keep us all safe.

Daddy being fully coloured in, I turned my attention to the bottom of the page, which needed a little something. There was the large muscular soldier again. “May I sketch those men in uniform?” I asked. “Take your pick,” he said. “They’ll be there until six o’clock.” I had fifteen minutes. The sun was really hot by now, but I fancied sketching a man in a gas mask. “Perhaps it’s not a good idea,” I said to his colleagues. “He’ll suffocate.” “Nonsense!” shouted the other officers. “Noonan! Keep still! You’re being sketched!” Their hectoring went on. “You look gorgeous – it’s an improvement!” they called. “You’re getting very red, Noonan!” (He was.) “We’ll take bets on how long he’ll last before he faints,” they said. “When water starts appearing over the top of his boots, we’ll know we’re close!” Poor Noonan – but I suppose he was under orders, and he stayed stock-still. I very much wanted to say “at ease, soldier” when I’d finished, like I do to my kids (who don’t think it’s funny), but I didn’t have the nerve. I am not his superior!

Noonan was released at last and I turned my attention to another man in an almost-as-fun uniform. This one was a riot suit. The subject was dark skinned and taciturn. Just the sort of man who would thwart your riotous intentions, in fact. He stood obediently while the same sharp-witted hecklers goaded him, although with less energy than that directed towards Noonan. They did ask me if I wanted the visor down. “”But he’ll cook,” I said. “Whatever you like!” assured the colleague. “Have it down if you want!” Gotta love those Defence Forces. But the riot gear man was very obliging, and seemed happy when he saw the finished product, or at least I think he was.

I clocked off after that, pretty exhausted but having had a super day. If you’re in Galway next July do pop out to Seafest, or better still, come and live by the sea in Galway…

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