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“Ireland is paradise when the sun comes out, isn’t it?”
This is what you’ll hear in Ireland again and again when the weather is really kind to us. It’s the truth. The fact that it is so rarely as nice as this means there’s just zero development on the north, west and south coast of Ireland. The Wild Atlantic Way stretches from Donegal in the north to Cork in the south, and at 1700 miles long, it’s the longest signposted coastal route in the world. If you are lucky enough to live along the Wild Atlantic Way, as I am, you will never be far from somewhere beautiful and pretty much deserted. It’s like stepping back in time…
Now that summer is really here, and the mercury has risen, we are all enjoying the warmth and sparkle of the sunshine. I’ve taken my pens and paints with me wherever I’ve gone, and I’ve made the most of summer sketching. I look forward to this kind of sketching all year, so when the sun comes out, I drop everything to go out and scribble, even if I’m working away from home at some point during the day. That’s the beauty of sketching – no planning is required, and it takes very little time in the grand scheme of things.
Here is my week in sketches. I hope you enjoy reading about it as much as I enjoyed being out there.
Today at Mulroog, about twenty minutes’ cycle from my house. I bought one of those baby slings for doggies you wear on your front, put our new pup in it, and off we went. Much too far for his little legs. I wouldn’t say he looked like he was in heaven, but he didn’t try to jump out, and it was only his first time. It was a great way to get exercise and bring him for a jaunt at the same time.
I liked the rusty chain so decided to make that the focus of the sketch. Lots of watercolour, lots of water – and for once, lots of sun.
The sky is mountain blue, the sea ultramarine and cobalt turquoise and the rest is a lot of splashing of burnt umber, indigo (as always), Venetian red and yellow ochre. Someone asked me the other day if indigo can be used as a shadow colour on top of any other colour. Provided you use it dilute enough them yes, it can, in my book.
Back at Mulroog again today. I had about 45 minutes while my daughter was at a class and thought I might sketch briefly. When I saw the road to Mulroog with its bright green hedgerows exploding with grass and wild flowers I had to take it. It was late afternoon and still hot and sunny. You have to see this part of the world at this time of year, in beautiful weather, to believe how gorgeous it is. There’s the ghost of a line on top of the sketch: the eagle-eyed among you will recognise it from yesterday’s sketch of Mulroog. I had started a sketch badly and abandoned it – the chain had been drawn too big. I didn’t think I’d have time to do a full sketch today so I didn’t turn a new page…a bit near-sighted really.
Urban sketching is about being in the moment. If I need to convince you that it’s not about Art, then look at this sketch of a breakfast table. Nothing remarkable here. But it’s a snapshot of my life, right now. There are two identical boxes of Malt Wheaties on the table, because the kids think it’s unfair that certain (teenage boy) people eat much more than others. So they each have their own with their name on it. Then there’s the husband thinking he didn’t get an equal share of juice (he didn’t, and I justified giving myself loads more in some selfish way: he would never do that to me!). But the most important thing about this sketch is that I was feeling low about something and now I don’t anymore.
I took my boy Paddy for a hair cut later in the evening. He’s 14. I wondered if I would be bored drawing the same scene, from the same chair, AGAIN. But I was immediately absorbed and enjoyed it thoroughly. Paddy was a bit bored with his phone because I wouldn’t turn on my hotspot so he looked over my shoulder and said, “You’re ruining Art.” “I am?” I said. “How so?” “Art should be in a studio, with oil paints, on a big canvas, of serious subjects, and it should be in the eighteenth century. Not what you do.” So if you ever wondered what Art is, now you know. (Note: he was being funny.) At Professional Barbers, Oranmore, Co. Galway.
I read that you’re supposed to let as many people as possible hold your pup before he’s three months old, so I’ve been passing Reuben around at Galway Bay Sailing Club as much as possible! No shortage of takers…Here is Reuben making a grown man go all mushy…
And here’s a simple sketch while waiting to go out on a friend’s yacht for the evening in Galway Bay. The sun set on the horizon and I sat at the bow (I think it’s called that, the front anyway) and dangled my legs over the side, watching comb jellies drift past just below the surface. My daughter and the yacht owner’s daughter sat below deck playing house – arranging the kitchen (galley?) and reading the Beano to each other in funny voices. Then back for a barbie at the club with a few good friends. Nice.
(This is very unusual: it’s usually blowing a gale around here, with a biting wind that whips the warmth out of your hands. So we enjoy it while we have it!)
Another beautiful day in Ireland. Wait – whaaat? Yes, it’s hot and sunny, the hedgerows are bursting with wild flowers and it’s just like the set of The Hobbit wherever I look. So I went off to Moran’s of the Weir, a very popular seafood and oyster restaurant on the far side of the river from me, with my girl Liv and the puppy, for his first ever swim in the sea. We walked past Moran’s and took the grassy path to the shore. I had thought of doing some sketching but I wondered if Liv would put up with sitting around for hours. She was great though. It really was hot, but I told myself that I was used to being thirsty and that I could wait. Suddenly, a young waiter appeared before me.
“Would you like a drink, on the house?” he asked. I nearly took the hand off him. So I had a pint, Liv had a Fanta…and then after a while she was hungry. She fancied a seafood chowder, and ate it beside me on the grass. Moran’s wouldn’t let her pay for that either. Then the husband joined us, I downed tools and we had a bottle of Bogman Pale Ale, my current favourite. And…Moran’s wouldn’t let us pay for that either. All because I spent a few delightful hours sketching their lovely restaurant…by the way, the food is amazing there.
Back to Mulroog again today, as it was just too hot to stay at home. I had a couple of hours before work and off I sped on my bicycle, the pup in the front carrier again (he’s getting used to it and didn’t wriggle at all). You can see the hills of Clare across the water, and there’s a monument to those lost at sea on the grassy headland just to the right of centre. Seagulls floated just offshore. I heard the sound of fish jumping in the water between the seagulls and the rocks next to me….does anyone know what type of fish jumps a long way clear of the water, in succession (like skimming stones), and appears black? Much too early for mackerel. Are they after mayfly? Do mayfly hang around above the sea? Whatever fish they were, the seagulls missed them. The pup found muddy stuff to mess about in, paddled a bit and generally had a lovely time: I’m trying to make it so his tail wags every time the dog carrier comes out.
If this beautiful weather keeps going the way it is, we Irish are going to stop remarking on it to all and sundry. But we still are, so…Another beautiful day in Galway! I drew this looking towards the quay at Killeenaran, because I liked the navy camper with the couple chilling outside it.
The couple was from Germany and retired (I found out later) and the woman found her companion hilarious, which was lovely to hear. When I was through I showed my sketch to the couple. “Wait!” said the man, and darted into the camper van to get something. He returned with a book of his own sketches, the most exquisite pencil drawings you could imagine. He, like me, is an urban sketcher, and has sketched all over Europe…I saw lakeside views of Norway, the Loire, Germany, Austria…and our own beautiful Burren. The gentleman didn’t speak much English and our conversation consisted of “Beautiful!” (me) and “Very fine, ja!” (him).
This camper-van lark seems like a good idea…
Here’s Reuben having a calm moment between messing about in the seaweed:
Down to Tracht, Kinvara, today with my mates Lorraine and Madeleine and a few of our kids. This is one of the younger generation, as beautiful as the day is long, on the cusp of womanhood. You can see the hills of the Burren in the distance. I brought my boy Paddy who is on his first day of summer holidays, as he is friends with Lorraine’s lad. Paddy has just had two intense days of exams, for which he was very nervous. “I’m not sure about science,” he said. “There was this question I wasn’t sure of, it said “why is the writing on the front of an ambulance written backwards?” I just wrote it’s so you can read it in your rear view mirror.” “Correct,” I said. “I thought so!” said Paddy. “One lad in my class said he didn’t know what to write, so he said it’s so that foreigners can read it, because they write backwards.”
So I figured a trip to the beach would calm things down a little and he swam about in the Atlantic with Lorraine’s lad, dodging crabs, skimming stones and – yes – building sandcastles. A bit of hurling made its way onto the sand, of course. Lorraine and Madeleine and I had our first swim of the season. Glorious.
Twenty years ago, my friends and I in the geology lab in NUI, Galway would keep an eye on the weather forecast in winter. If there was a band of low pressure coming through, and other conditions were right (can’t remember what) we would drive to Lahinch and go surfing. I was completely useless until just before I stopped, by which time I was marginally less useless. But it was always terrific fun, and there’s no good reason why I haven’t taken to the waves with a board since then.
My friend Ger texted last night to go surfing today. It was so sunny, a chance not to be missed, and off we set for Lahinch, Co. Clare, this morning. We walked along the beach waiting for the waves to get a bit bigger. A seagull on the sand tried to kill a tiny plaice it had caught, but dropped it in fright when it saw us. Then the tide took back the plaice. I figured the seagull had caught it fair and square, so I gave the poor half-dead creature back to the bird.
It turns out surfing is one of those things that’s like riding a bike – you remember what to do, despite the decades. Entering the sea I did wonder if it would be too much for me (so many injuries over the years) but it was heaven. The sea was so clean and clear, sparkling in the sun. In between falls I managed to surf a few waves, enough to remind me why I used to love it so much. I made this sketch while Ger was changing out of her wetsuit (about six minutes) because I needed to commemorate my return to the waves after so long.
That’s it for now, and I hope to bring you more sketches of the sunshine in Galway next week. Have a lovely week, wherever you are! Meanwhile I’d love to hear your thoughts so please feel free to comment here…