Sometimes it’s a big effort to go out at night. You’ve had dinner, you’re tired, a glass of wine sounds nice. But as a sketcher it’s always worth the effort.
I’m in the throes of putting together my first solo book. I’ve illustrated lots of picture books, and I’ve written a blog for years, but this is the first time both my words and my sketches are appearing together in a book. The publishers, Currach Press, make gorgeous books, which is why I was attracted to them: no point making beautiful sketches if the reproduction doesn’t do them justice. So for the last year I have sketched the bejaysus out of Galway City, in between jetting around Europe teaching folk all about the wonderful world of urban sketching, and spending lots of time in beautiful places. It’s been exhausting but also energising. I have never experienced as busy a year (apart from, of course, looking after babies and toddlers; I was an idiot, and didn’t ask for help). I’m ready for the bed from around nine in the evening at the best of times, so with things even busier than usual an evening excursion isn’t something I’m keen on.
But there are things I still want to draw for my book. A few nights ago, therefore, I found myself in Árus na nGael on Galway’s Dominick Street. I had headed out there on a cold Monday evening in February because I had heard there would be a trad music session on, and for once it was starting at a reasonable time. Normally these things start at nine o’clock or later, which is too late for me.
There’s just one problem. I had rung to check the time and so on but my Irish clearly wasn’t quite good enough to understand the finer points of the rapidly-delivered information I was given, especially because it was said in a Donegal accent. When I got there, it turned out that it wasn’t so much a trad group of accomplished musicians as a group of enthusiastic amateurs learning to play their instruments from a low base. At first I was going to head elsewhere – it wasn’t what I was looking for, and my deadline is so close – but I stayed, and I was glad I did. The man leading the group was an American called Ryan. He had a most friendly, relaxed approach towards his students.
“Make mistakes!” he told them. “That way your neighbour won’t feel so bad about theirs.”
I loved that. Between sets Ryan came over to say hello, and I told him I liked his approach and that I could hear the confidence grow over the hour I’d been there. Ryan told me he had a background in education, and we discussed the fact that children aren’t bothered about making mistakes, but adults are. He also told me that at one point he was attracted to art as a subject, and needless to say I invited him to join Urban Sketchers Galway. He replied quickly, telling me that he would do, if I came and joined them with my flute. Touché! I think I just might, as I’ve wanted to get into making Irish music (or any music) for years.
I was very happy to have a sketch of the group, because it summed up the inclusivity and community spirit you find in Galway (albeit under the guidance of an American in this case).
After my sketch of the group, I headed across the road to Rouge, my favourite restaurant in Galway. I love the vibrant atmosphere, the excellent food, the charming staff and the charismatic Fabienne who runs the place. I had to have my favourite restaurant in my book. I got sketching – and I was thrilled that there was a beauty in a red dress on the left of my frame. She really was the prefect subject and tied in with the red theme very well, including the hearts that were still suspended across the ceiling from the previous Thursday’s Valentine’s Day.
So in the end my Monday outing was well worth it – and I was home by ten. Then instead of going to bed I hung around with my kids; just because they are no longer toddlers – they’re grown-ass adults, as the eldest keeps telling me – doesn’t mean they don’t still take looking after, and there was a bit of cooking to be done before bed. I’m still an idiot…