Monday 9th May
I want to paint the roses my lovely family bought to welcome me home from hospital, and I finally get my chance late on Monday evening. I can’t get my view right – on the table they’re too high to see the blossoms, and on the chair they are so low they look silly. These are the little things sent to trip up a sketcher! So I move the vase to a little Mah Jong seat and the height is perfect. (You can see the whole collection of the beautiful heavily-carved furniture, with its four little seats and the square table in last week’s blog, in the sketch of my son Paddy watching Suits.) It’s nice painting the rosebuds, which never opened, in the quiet gloom of the living room, Paddy watching Better Call Saul to my left. I like their dried-out stillness. I love to drop on pools of Pyrrole rubine, watch them spread, then add concentrated drops of Mineral violet at the tips. It becomes the subject of Tuesday’s Fresh Sketches class, and I think the students enjoy the freedom of letting paint do its own thing. I remind them that a philosophy of mine is that we must one day reach an entente cordiale with watercolour, where we meet it halfway, and allow it to take the reins after a certain point. Then, we enter a dance with watercolour, one in which we move in prefect rhythm.
Tuesday 10th May
I meet a client for a private session in Galway City. She’s a lovely woman, gentle and easy-going, on holidays with her husband from France. It’s my first formal workshop in French and I have to learn lots of new terms: just as well, as I’m teaching in France in a month. We only have two hours but I really enjoy her company and I hope she learns something. She tells me she simply cannot bring herself to leave areas unpainted, and I wonder if other students have the same problem. We finish the session with a people sketch in the sunshine outside Neachtain’s pub on Cross Street.
Wednesday 11th May
On Saturday I arrive into the house from my studio to find a glorious bunch of flowers arranged in a vase on the dining room table. They are a welcome-home gift from one of my kind and thoughtful students from the US, and she has gone to the trouble of finding a florist local to me who takes orders from anywhere in the world. I feel so privileged to be held in the regard of these amazing, good-hearted people. I very much want to paint the flowers: I feel sure I will not succeed, so I am free to do whatever I want. I paint them alla prima, adding a line with pen afterwards. I am not horrified with the results.
Saturday 14th May
I have offered a theme for Saturdays in May: with the weather getting warmer, I think the sketchers might like to get out and capture humans in the wild, so it’s all about drawing people. The first class, People 1: Proportions and Warm-Up, is followed by People 2: Park Life…the students soon understand more about the play of shadow on unsuspecting people grabbing lunch in the park than they ever thought they needed to know.
After all this time, I still tend to overestimate the amount we’ll get done in class, but I have to prioritise the speed with which the students can follow me. Quality over quantity – but that’s only in class. In the wild, it’s the opposite. I tell my students that they are not to worry about perfection too much when they’re sketching from life – the crucial thing is to let as much ink flow under the bridge as possible. With practice comes ease and skill. When I started drawing people, I struggled to get arms and legs and other annoying limbs looking natural. Feet were, literally, my Achilles’ heel, arms often looked dislocated and heads were always too small. Then I heard that tip passed on by Quentin Blake: think about which leg [or limb] the weight is on. That helped enormously. Now, I have a kind of muscle memory and my mind “sees” where the limb or feature should land, without needing to see it in front of me (although I still panic when a person leaves). That muscle memory will develop with my students one day, as long as they keep on scribbling down those wild humans.
Thursday 19th May
It’s a beautiful day and the sheets are on the washing line. It is a joy to sketch the shadows, making the obects glow in the sun. I remember that one of the students has asked for a description of grass in sunlight and shadow, and so I decide that this will make the perfect subject for the Fresh Sketches class on Tuesday.
Reuben, loyal always, sits in the sun and I capture the glow of his lovely fluffy white body.
The paints I have ordered for my Watercolour Sketching for Beginners class arrive. They are by Royal Talens in the Netherlands, the Van Gogh range. I have bought the 12+3 set as the three extra colours are vital to the way I like to teach. The course begins 23/05/22 and I have had a huge response. I hope everyone gets something out of it…if they get a hundredth, a thousandth, of the joy I have had from sketching, it’ll be money well spent. I like to keep my prices accessible to everyone, but that’s a risk: you may not get the takers. Luckily the gamble has paid off, and the students and I will both be happy. Besides, if they become as addicted to sketching as I am, they’re going to spend all their extra money on art supplies…
Saturday 21st May
In the third class on drawing humans, People 3: Beach Bodies, I introduce figures with as few clothes on as we’re likely to find outside of a life-drawing class. And where would you rather be – in a stuffy room with a naked person in it, or on the beach where everyone is completely relaxed? With snippets of conversation to go with it? I know which I would choose, every time.
(I am reminded of my first time in a life-drawing class with a real live naked model. I am seventeen years old, in my first week of term with 23 other art college students, all nude-model virgins like myself. I am unspeakably tense. You could cut the atmosphere in the room with a knife. I catch Sean Horgan out of the corner of my eye. His glasses are fogged up. I cannot bear it. The model is wearing a kimono and, unlike us, seems perfectly relaxed. She disappears behind a bamboo screen and returns with nothing on. In that split second the tension dissolves, and the atmosphere returns to normal. That is the last time I am nervous before a nude model. I also remember one of the other students, later on in term, complaining about my work to the tutor – the nerve – saying “Róisín’s work is always so stylised.” The tutor, a wise man named Eamonn, says “It doesn’t matter whether it’s stylised or not. All that matters is whether it is right or wrong.” Thank you Eamonn. I wish I could remember what busybody didn’t like my style, but whoever it was, I will wager they’re not drawing as much as I am these days.)
Members of the class are enthusiastic about getting to the beach and producing their own “life-drawing” sketches. I wish them Godspeed.
Sunday 22nd May
I think hard about the subject for this week’s podcast, Sketch Therapist. Each week I wait for the theme to drift into my head, and it usually does, nearly fully-formed: all that is required is to record the words that give meaning to the theme. I want to talk about failure, identity confusion, success and triumph, followed by more failure and identity confusion. I hope I can make a contribution to these themes – and, with any luck, give hope to other dreamers like me.