I finished the last blog post on the second day of my Urban Sketching course in Artform, Dunmore East, Thursday 6th July, with my very inspired game of Sketching Bingo in the Haven Hotel behind us. I forgot to mention that on the Wednesday afternoon I sketched some people having a pint or two of Guinness at a table outside the hotel where we were doing our Drawing Technique lesson, advising the students to watch for someone with a fresh order in front of them, so as to maximise the time they’ll get…
…and that evening, as I am sitting outdoors enjoying a big dish of mussels cooked in some kind of very tasty coconut and ginger sauce on the terrace outside the Strand Inn I decide to fill in the page a bit. But one thing leads to another – as it tends to with a sketch – and before too long I have included the paddle-boarders (I recognise them from behind the Strand Inn bar) and the gloaming sky and the boats and horizon and so on…
Thursday 6th July
In the evening, over a delicious plate of lemon sole so fresh it’s still all curled up, I receive a phone call from a dear friend in France. This is very unusual: good friends we may be, but we only ever communicate by text when we are not in the same country. He is phoning to console me, which is just so kind. The day before I got word that I had been rejected by yet another thing I have applied to: this time it’s the Rendezvous du Carnet de Voyage in France, which is held each November in Clermont-Ferrand. It’s a festival of travel sketchbooks, and I thought I was a shoo-in: I’ve been to the festival twice and I know what the standard is (sometimes hot, sometimes not) – but hot or cold, my collection of sketchbooks of drawing and painting on the streets of Dublin over the course of two years fits the brief perfectly. My friend has asked me if I would like him to find out from the Directrice of the event to say what happened, but I’ve turned him down. I was so disappointed when I got the news – I wanted to be on the other side of the table with the cool kids this time, and I was going to bring my lovely daughter Liv as my assistant, and speak French to her all the time, and make her speak French all the time, and show her the ancient streets of Clermont-Ferrand…and now we’re not going anywhere. But my friend has taken it upon himself to ask the Directrice what the reason for my rejection is anyway: he tells me she says I only submitted three drawings. I submitted 26, and asked if they had everything they needed, and they said they did, and that they would be in touch if I was missing anything, but even if the selection committee tell me they’ve made a ghastly mistake (they won’t) I will never darken the ancient streets of Clermont-Ferrand again. To be rejected once isn’t fun, but it’s doable (my Galway sketchbooks were also rejected back in 2021) – to be turned down twice is definitive, and you would have to be a masochist to submit a third time. I am highly insulted, and I tell my friend as much, and that I will never apply to take part again.
“Noooon Rosine, ne dis pas ça…” he says. Don’t say that. But I will say that. There will be no more Rosine in CF.
The good news is that my friend’s phone call is the first time I have thought about the event all day, despite being so furious the evening before. The thing about being an artist is that you are constantly rejected, and you need to move on quickly. I am rejected all the time – for everything – and the only thing that gives me comfort is the fact that I know exactly who I am and what I do, and I also know that people who break the mould have always been rejected by the establishment. But in the early days it was very frustrating. Even a hired studio space rejected my application once. And I was turned down when I volunteered – volunteered, mind – to teach sketching to troubled teens. If people think that I have succeeded in my career – and I have, beyond my wildest imagining – it’s precisely because I could get nowhere, ever, from the gatekeepers…and I was forced to do my own thing.
But I am still not crazy about disappointment. I won’t be applying for anything else for a while to come.
Friday 7th July
It is promised to be sunny today, but promises are made to be broken, especially when it comes to the weather in Ireland. We aren’t too unlucky though, and it stays more or less dry for the morning. I have been waiting for a chance to show the students my technique for sketching trees in leaf, but it’s been too wet and windy so far and I haven’t found the right moment. Help is at hand! One of the students owns a place in Dunmore East – in fact, it’s one of those gorgeous thatched cottages I sketched on my first evening. She has invited everyone to her front terrace for the morning session, which means we can duck inside her house if it starts raining. It’s ideal, as there are a few different tree shapes and presentations for them to try.
I wonder if it will be too basic for the students, but it turns out not to be: even the student who has been working in watercolour for thirty years feels she hasn’t quite got trees to look how she wants them to look. We launch in and before her eyes she makes a row of trees that looks really believable. They’re just fifty metres from her terrace, and she’s painted them dozens of times, but for the first time she’s pleased with the look of the trees. It’s a eureka moment. This is the kind of satisfaction you get as a teacher that makes it so rewarding. Here I am with one of my students: some of you will recognise that sketch from the last day of my most recent online course in urban sketching (next one takes place 21st-25th August 2023).
The afternoon is bright and sunny, and we head down to the harbour for some exciting sketching of trawlers of other boats in the green-blue water, and their reflections. It is bliss down there, the delicious sunshine and heat in sharp contrast to the cold and rain of the previous afternoon.
It’s the nicest way to finish up the day. I sketch away to demonstrate what I am talking about. Then I tell them they have nine minutes to sketch seven seagulls. It went down well in a class once, and I hope it will here, too. Not as much as I’d hoped – the students are very tired after three days’ intense sketching and listening to me. One student fills the page with the classic “m” shape that is shorthand for “flying bird” – and there’s nothing wrong with that, I’m all for m-shaped birds – but a bit of variety looks great. The student’s neighbour has been a bit more adventurous and I see a page filled with seagulls…one of which is clearly standing up in the sky. I point this out and the student looks at me with a cheeky expression and adds a pair of dangling legs from the bird’s undercarriage. That’s my kind of humour.
Four o’clock comes around and it’s time to go our separate ways. One of the beginner students is now realising he has a strong, confident hand and shouldn’t have any difficulty expanding his new hobby. He has recently retired and his children gave him this course as a Christmas gift, along with the paints an other bits of materials.
“Dad,” they’d said, “you’re always doodling. We thought this might suit you.”
This is the man who was ready to turn around and leave on the morning he arrived. It is plain as day that he’s well able to make great sketches that are filled with life and colour, and with a very cool, confident black line.
The man with the gravity-defying seagull is a beginner when it comes to sketching, a gentleman entering his ninth decade. He was quiet when he arrived and wasn’t sure about his abilities on the first day. But he has found that he’s capable of a lot more than he thought. I am honoured when he gives me a hug goodbye, and I feel it in my heart.
Martina, the organiser of Artform, gives each of the students a feedback form. It’s uncomfortable to be present in the room as they fill it in, but Martina is direct and honest and reminds me that it’s good for her, for me and for them to know what we’re doing right and what we could improve. It’s two days later when I look at the forms, and all the comments are positive apart from two: one says the first day was a bit basic (that was the day with painting the teacups, and the drawing techniques) but I can say that although I have been sketching for forty years and more I still learn every time I approach either of these topics. The other negative comment was that if the group were bigger, mixing beginners with improvers might not work. The student has a point. After the two in-person courses I have lined up for August (Galway, 1 place left) and the end of September (Dublin, 2 places left) I won’t be doing in-person courses for mixed groups any more…if I do more at all. Yes folks, I am considering keeping my teaching to an online format althogether. Considering it. I was ready to drop after Dunmore East and there are so many areas into which I want to direct my energy…
Saturday 8th July
My brother has invited me to a concert with him. It’s Damien Dempsey, a marvellous troubadour (totally charismatic and gifted but also oft-rejected at the start of his career, as it happens). He’s the type of social justice warrior who means it. Who makes you want to join in the fight. He is from Dublin’s inner city and he sings about the scourge of drugs, and the perils of not looking after your mental health, and of injustice, past and present. A great man. He is a big lad, an ex-boxer, with reddish hair and pale skin. I recommend Serious as a good song to start with, or Maasai, or To Hell Or Barbados, or It’s All Good. My brother and I meet some of his charming lady friends in the centre of Dublin and we head out on a beautiful summer’s evening to the Iveagh Gardens, which were left out of my illustrated book about Dublin – unforgiveably – and on that balmy evening we sit on the grass waiting for Damo to start.
My brother’s friends ask me what I do, and I tell them about the whole sketching thing. I have my fancy little SketchPocket slung over my shoulder and I figure I will demonstrate it in action.
“I really mean it when I say I sketch anything,” I say. “Look, I’ll sketch the legs of this guy in front of us.”
They are mesmerised. I catch their eye and, like the old gentleman drawing the seagull’s legs, I add the hairs sticking out of the slim shins. In my peripheral vision, I can see a guy watching me a couple of rows behind me on the grass. Then Damo takes to the stage and I shut my book quickly – the paint is still wet and smudges on the right calf – and it’s all about the music. After a few minutes the guy who was watching me passes through the crowd around me.
“I was watching you,” he says. “I was transfixed. Transfixed! And your set-up! It’s so cool!”
I beam. “Thank you,” I say, without doing my usual sales pitch on him. I am just pleased a young guy might also form part of my target market. This is good news.
Damo is amazing. Listening to him, in that sweet night air, under the stars, and filing out of the Iveagh Gardens surrounded by Dublin hard men singing It’s All Good (“Love youseeeellllf, today….”) in unison all around me, so good-natured, I am proud to be Irish, which is probably giving into populism and national pride, I know, but there you have it.
Sunday 9th July
I meet my older daughter in town for lunch. She’s late and I am early, so I take the opportunity to sketch the coffee in front of me. We are on a busy street at the height of the tourist season. I love sketching stuff like this and the vintage French ad on the table looks really cool. I take a pic of a framed ad inside the café that I consider adding but I might just add another cup of coffee and use it for my online course at the end of August. Too much fun to keep it to myself.
My mother takes a picture of me sitting in her garden. Can you see how tired I look? I am in shreds. Serves me right for staying up till the small hours after Damo – I’m no longer in my twenties, ot even thirties (or forties) after all.
Monday 10th July
Back to Galway at last. Nice and comfy on a train that’s not too busy…so I sketch a fellow passenger. He is tapping away on his phone calculator and looks very puzzled, so I add what I imagine he is thinking above his head.
My SketchPocket is fantastic, and it’s the reason I have made 16 sketches over a very busy week. But the pens keep falling out, and although I don’t lose any of them, I nearly do a couple of times. So I have to make Version 7 next. Not to worry! I have ordered cute cork “SketchPocket” labels to sew on, and I want to make two sizes rather than just the one…so much fun!
I hope you have enjoyed this piece, and above all, if you’re a freelance artist and writer like me, try not to dwell on rejections, which are just a sign of zero taste anyway. Next!