Sketching a Traditional Music Gig in Ballinderreen

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People had been talking about Máirtín O’Connor, and how amazing he was, in the weeks leading up to his concert in Ballinderreen Community Centre last Saturday. That was all I knew – I had never heard him play. But when I was asked to come and sketch Máirtín and his friends as they played, I was delighted to accept.

The first group to play in this traditional music gig were members of Ceoltoirí an Doirín. What an ensemble. Their passion for their music was clear, and their skill for kids so young was impressive. I know one or two of the parents of the young musicians, so I shouldn’t have been too surprised at their dedication. One of the boys playing has an older brother, who at just eleven years old, his mother told me, felt he couldn’t get through the day without playing his uilleann pipes. That kind of dedication really showed in the kids: they were truly excellent. I decided that the next time I have a party I will hire them to come and play.

Then one of their number, a beautiful young redhead, sang a couple of solos. She was like a young songbird. My favourite was “Red is the Rose…”

When Máirtín O’Connor and Brendan O’Regan began to play, I decided to paint whatever I sketched. As always, I followed my rule of drawing and painting in full the figure I’ve painted, because it will probably have moved before I finish, even though it would be more convenient to paint all the green bits, all the blue bits, etc. So off I set, painting the figure of Brendan, on the far left. But the best laid plans…the two guys’ playing suddenly began to speed up, taking on a frantic pace that reminded me of a kind of trance Delta Blues with West of Ireland written all over it. I knew my sketch was in trouble – I had no choice but to jig, tap and jerk along with the beat, the accuracy of my pencil line taking a backseat to my compulsion to move. This isn’t going to work, I thought, but after that tune ended things calmed down a little and I pulled myself together.

Máirtín and Brendan were joined by Ciara and Sinéad, Máirtín’s two daughters. They were tall and slim, two visions of loveliness. It wasn’t just that they were beautiful – Ireland is full of natural beauties – but they radiated serenity as they took to the stage with their fiddles and sat next to their father. Every now and then, the girls would exchange a comment and a smile; and once they began to play, the language of music was one everyone on stage understood perfectly and the communication between father and daughters as they played was easy and sweet. Then Máirtín introduced another tune.

‘As a young fella,’ he said, ‘I used to love hearing my grandparents play together. There was one tune they particularly loved. “Play “The Blackbird” for me,” one would say to the other. “It’s too hard,” the other would say. “You do it.” Indeed, it can be a tricky tune to play. Now Ciara is going to play it for us, as a slow air…all on her own-io.’ That’s Ciara on the far right.

Ciara took up her cello and soon, for the second time that evening, I had to stop sketching. The music rose and fell as her bow moved over the strings, the melody transporting us to a place of bliss. I was just in front of her, a place in the front row having being set aside for me to sketch. I’m sorry I didn’t draw Ciara playing the cello – I guess I have yet to master the art of professional detachment. (The day I lose my passion is the day I stop drawing.)

Two days after the concert, I ran into Breandán. I told him how amazing I thought the younger musicians were.
‘They’re still on a high,’ he said. ‘I’d say a lot of them didn’t sleep that night.’

What a gift those kids have been given, and now they’re giving it back to us. The future of our glorious musical tradition is in safe – and talented – hands.

(c) Róisín Curé 2014 all rights reserved


Art Materials I Use and Can Recommend

My favourite watercolours are made by Schmincke. I use a very small set when I am on the move, or this set of 24, which is available to buy here from Utrecht Art Supplies (in the US):-


Set of 24

Set of 24

or in the UK and EU :-

Jackson’s Art Supplies
Schmincke : Horadam Watercolour : Metal Set : 12 Half Pans

I also use Escoda Versatil brushes (available from Dick Blick in the US) :-


Escoda Versatil Brushes

Escoda Versatil Brushes

or from Jackson’s in the UK and EU :-

Escoda : VERSATIL Kolinsky Synthetic : Series 1540 : # 8

There are three pens I always use. The first is the Platinum Carbon pen, which can be used with cartridges or a converter. A converter is useful when you are choosing your own ink. The Platinum has never let me down: they tell you to use it every couple of days to avoid clogging, but I have left it longer than that and I have never had a problem in many years of use. It is also very reasonably priced and is available to buy from Amazon :-

The second pen I am never without is the Kuretake Brush Pen. I always use waterproof Platinum Carbon ink cartridges in my brush pen. This is available to buy here from Dick Blick in the US :-


Kuretake Brush Pen

Kuretake Brush Pen

or from Jackson’s in the UK and EU :-

Kuretake : Bimoji Fude Pen : Black Medium BRUSH : Maroon pack XT5-10

The third pen I really enjoy using is more expensive, but I chose it for its flexible steel nib, which gives a lovely variable line thickness. It’s the Namiki Falcon and is available here from Amazon :-

I find that grey ink gives a softer line than black – it’s more like a pencil line – and I always make sure at least one of my fountain pens contains grey ink. I use Lexington Gray by Noodler’s, which is waterproof when dry, also from Amazon :-

I use various types of watercolour paper, but one I come back to a lot is by Langton, available here from Dick Blick :-


Daler-Rowney Langton Prestige Watercolor Blocks

Daler-Rowney Langton Prestige Watercolor Blocks

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